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Jul 14, 2008 06:55 PM

my new favorite thing - TINY restaurants

after a stunning dinner at little fish (and a whole lotta drinks that night) i've decided BYOB means so much more to me than just what the acronym translates to. why do nearly all of my favorite places happen to be tiny BYOBs? could it be that they're individually/family-owned and the owners can't afford a huge space, let alone a liquor license, so they make do with what they have and as a result out of the (often one-manned) kitchen floats meticulously prepared, deliciously balanced, attractively arranged food? that was my theory, anyway. ;) plus, i just feel so damn special being one person served in a packed house... of like six people.

last week i had a downright perfect dinner at little fish. started off with scallops and king crab. the king crab was perfectly... crabby... in a light delicious summer way. scallops were cooked so exact - the texture was just right and they were coated with some simple yummy sea salt. went on to entrees with a grouper - again, coated with more sea salt and other light herbs and subtle flavors. i would happily eat this dish every day for the rest of my life. i think our other fish was a mahi mahi, but i am terrible at telling fishes apart and this one was sauced heavier with a thicker skin from the fry. it was great though the other fish was the standout. such a satisfying dinner and i can't wait to go back to this tiny gem. it immediately shot up to one of my top ten faves, and possibly even top five (for summery foods at least)... which got me thinking about all my faves and what they have in common - they're all tiny little places, they're all BYOB, many cash-only and many look like they could be an extension of the owner's home. modo mio, matyson and chloe all make the top 5 list and they all fit approximately the same profile. these little places are all so good they make me wish i'd gone to culinary school so i could spend all my time immersed in that pleasant atmosphere. or married an executive chef at the very least. :)

anyway, has anyone else found themselves favoring philly's tinier BYOB restaurant scene? can you just tell one of these places is going to be fabulous before your wine bottle is uncorked for you? just curious to see what you all think. and if you have any other must-try tiny BYOB places. :)

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  1. I dont drink and I love the tiny spots over all the big places. The entire experience is so much more personable and different at a place like Mandoline( my fav. ever) than at Amada and they even share a wall. Don't get me wrong, Amada is great, but there is something about a tinier place that I adore. I haven't been to the Little Fish Sunday Dinner yet. Maybe next week, is their AC cold, this weekend is supposed to be HOT.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Gorp512

      if i remember right i think little fish had a giant window unit. i know i wasn't freezing cold which means the place was probably warm by normal standards - i am tropical! :) since it is an open kitchen, it's probably a warmer dining room than many, but if it helps it is on the SW corner of a block so the sun doesn't hit it too harshly. i'd just ask em nicely to sit in front of the AC, and to crank it.

      oooh, i never knew mandoline was there - how have i never even seen them?! just looked at their menu and four things caught my eye outright. definitely i need to try that halibut. i will have to try to get there ASAP. i go to movies at the ritz all the time and cannot believe i've never noticed them when walking around that area!!

      1. re: rabidog

        mandoline closed last year. Its some kind of sushi place now, Garces should just buy the space and expand Amada, I know that kind of defeats the purpose of my first reply to this post, but no place is ever going to be able to do well there with such a cash cow and hotspot next door.

        1. re: Gorp512

          Cash only is a good sign that the food is going to be extra tasty, whether it is a place serving more sophisticated dishes as mentioned above or just really good cheesesteaks like at Pudge's in Blue Bell or a nice chicken parm at Ray's in Lansdale. Both of those are cash only also. I guess accepting credit cards really hurts the cash flow of a small place. Or is there something else about the cash only thing that I am missing?

          1. re: givemecarbs

            I always thought that cash only helps the restaurant save some cash by avoiding the credit card company charge (I think it is like 1-2%). Some might also say that the restaurant can more easily cook the books for tax purposes if there is no electronic record of every transaction, but I'm not sure how much that goes on.

            I have no problem with cash only, but I do have a problem with cash only places that have an ATM. Seems very tacky.

          2. re: Gorp512

            Actually, the spot next to Amada is a Korean restaurant called Meju, owned by the same person who owns Double Shots espresso bar just across Strawberry St. I've only gotten a chance to eat there once--had the bulgogi, which was tasty.

      2. There are quite a few small BYOBs in Philly that are very good. If you haven't tried Pumpkin or Salt and Pepper you should try both of them. I was just at Salt and Pepper a few months ago and had a great meal. Haven't been to Pumpkin in a little while, may have to go back there soon. Also haven't been to Little Fish yet.

        2 Replies
        1. re: cosmo125

          yep, those are both next up for me to try. it's going to be hard to get myself into salt & pepper when little fish is so close by!!!

          re: mandoline - oh that's right... now i remember the chef went to deuce, which closed. where is he now, anyone know?

          is gayle a teeny place, too? still haven't been there.

          i know a lot of people are raddichio fans (and bistro juliana). i guess i owe them another visit. i feel like i was missing something or i ordered wrong.

          il cantuccio and la locanda del ghiottone are two more REALLY teeny places i love. i need to get back to la locanda, it's been awhile. anyone been recently?

          1. re: rabidog

            Gayle is small, its not Django or Mercato small, but its def. small. Todd Lean ( Mandoline, Duece) is not a sous at Pod, I really hope he moves back into the exec. spot somewhere soon, I think he is one of the best chefs in the city.

        2. Dmitri's on 3rd & Catherine... my favorite tiny BYOB in the city. I also enjoy Little Fish much for the same reason I adore Dmitri's. Tiny, intimate (in its own way- an extension of home), fresh light food that is always spot on! I also enjoy Mercato, Radicchio and Bistro Juliana...

          1. One of our favorites is August, at 13th and Wharton. BYOB, cash only.
            Small menu, but everything on it is good. We've eaten there more times than I can count, and I keep making new discoveries.

            1. If you're ever in Sunbury, PA., don't miss "The Squeeze." The counter is in the middle, the grill is on the right, and you sit at the counter on the left. Five of you....that's all. Outrageous BBQ sandwich! Walk-up window. Dogs with kraut, chips. End of story.